The 5th Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) 2014, which coincided with Global Entrepreneurship Week 2014, was hosted by the Kingdom of Morocco. The event was held under the theme, “Harnessing the Power of Technology for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.” The event site was set up to reflect an entrepreneurship village and welcomed many players in the entrepreneurship eco-system. The Village was buzzing with various themed areas including a wide variety of workshops, plenary sessions and meetings that were dedicated to students and women. The Village also included a marketplace, where individuals with the same interests could gather, learn, share and trade with each other. I was amazed at how language was a barrier for me since French was the common language used. More so since I come from a country where language is a classifier or qualifier of some sort. Needless to say, I was grateful to the event organisers for providing earphones with translation at each and every session. I was able to learn, reflect and receive immense value from the happenings of the event and would like to share the following with you:
1. Entrepreneurship for the African landscape is critical and not a luxury. We face an education, electricity, quality healthcare and high youth unemployment crisis. Within this landscape, entrepreneurship is the business of hope. As a continent, we need to find innovative solutions to solve problems that our societies face. We need to have more Africans finding a way to solve Africa’s problems. I was particularly inspired by Akon, a successful international African musician, who spoke at GES about a project he started with partners to light up Africa. Originally, they planned to start by lighting up 500 homes and now, they are operating in 14 countries.
2. Entrepreneurs need support, but the right kind of support. The feeders (individuals, investors, entrepreneurial agencies and development organisations and programmes) need to continually look at their interventions and assess with vigour, whether they are having impact and /or achieving the right kind of impact. Our entrepreneurial eco-systems lack good mentorship and hence the problem of knowledge to successfully access funding that our entrepreneurs face. Furthermore, there is a missing middle tier in accessing funding. Entrepreneurs find that the most problematic funding bracket is between R25K – R1million which is too big for small funders and too small for big funders.
3. Investing in quality education is key! Quality education determines the activity and level of entrepreneurship and our nation needs a skilled workforce to move companies forward. We have examples of countries like Rwanda that built itself up and one of the things that contributed to its success was the country’s determination of placing entrepreneurship within their education system. South Africa needs to follow suit as the quality of education will also determine the level and activity of entrepreneurship that will help move this country forward.
4. A successful entrepreneurial eco-system requires the right partnerships. Everyone needs to be involved and play their role. South Africa should host events that bring entrepreneurs, feeders, corporate organisations, banks and government together. This platform will be used to remove assumptions that one party may understand the needs of the other party without consultation. It will help shift traditional cultures of “business as usual” to a place of collaboration, where all players can collectively learn and listen to each other and intentionally address the issues of strengthening the eco-system. Feeders and funders need to understand that the business of entrepreneurship takes time and cannot expect quick results and turnaround times – it does take time. Furthermore, feeders need to use their power to facilitate access for others into the eco-system.
I was most struck by an address given by the Dubai government which demonstrated the strength of making entrepreneurship part of the mandate to achieve goals that increase the welfare of a nation. They shared that their objectives as a government which were the following:
- To make people happy
- To give people hope
- To focus on human development
5. Entrepreneurship is the profession of doing. Prove your concept as soon as possible. Build your credibility very fast. Get your first customers as soon as possible. As feeders we need a renewed focus on results and to do justice to that mandate. We should balance using our resources to build home-grown models whilst taking some lessons from the likes of Silicon Valley that are suitable and can be applied to our own societies.
Throughout the event, the echoes that reverberated throughout is that “It is time for Africa” and that “Africa is open for business.” To conclude, Africa can either be ahead of the game and be a trailblazer or be behind and play catch-up. Either way, Africa is moving forward, the pace depends on all of us.